A recent controversy that erupted in the Chicago area involved a proposal to subject Chicago Housing Authority residents to mandatory drug testing. The testing would be required for all residents over the age of 18, including the elderly. The idea is that if residents live in publicly-subsidized housing, the government then has the right to subject those residents to drug testing in efforts to rid these communities of drug use and the violence that often accompanies it.
Opponents of the mandatory drug testing called this proposal humiliating, a slap in the face, and a complete lack of regard for the dignity of these residents. I agree. This issue is very nuanced, but I view the desire to subject bodies to the will of a more powerful majority for moral reasons as a complicated, multi-faceted problem in our country. And I see parallels with anti-abortion efforts and the U.S. military.
The impetus behind the anti-drug, anti-abortion, and military (nation-building?) movements may be noble. No one wants a neighborhood to be ravaged with the problems of drug use and drug trade, and if we can find a home for a child as opposed to terminating a pregnancy, we all win. As a pacifist, I see no justification for military efforts, but the way I see low-income and minority soldiers used for a "moral" reason reminds me of the drug-testing and abortion controversies.
These are just some unfinished, scattered thoughts I've had lately so please bear with me: the way that a powerful majority goes about eliminating what they view to be certain wrongs can render a form of violence and dignity-stripping on others. To subject a group of people to drug testing--including the elderly--simply because they don't have the means to live in non-government-subsidized housing just rubs me the wrong way. Low-income housing residents are not statistics that must bend to the will of policy-makers. Fighting for an issue because it will improve our society is great, but that doesn't mean we can deny the humanity and dignity of others in the process. Imposing your moral will on the bodies of others, without their consent, doesn't seem to accomplish much.
In the same way, these thoughts reflect the struggle that I have with abortion. Wealthy white males, who are members of the most powerful group in our country, telling women what they can and cannot do with our bodies just doesn't sit very well with me. That's the feminist me talking. The Jesus-follower side of me (not exactly opposed to the feminist side, mind you) recognizes that our bodies are new-creation-bringing temples, and are meant to reflect the redemption that was/is/will be wrought in our world. Part of this new creation is a rejection of the centuries of fallenness that have allowed the powerful to control women's bodies. Again, while keeping the fetus in mind is a noble goal, it comes across too many times as a denial of (often low-income and minority) women's own humanity and dignity. The imposition is underlined when rape or incest are involved.
As for the military (again, bear with me here - there's a connection...somehow), Jim Wallis shared an excellent post at Red Letter Christians a few weeks ago. He wrote that the economic promises that accompany military recruitment come at a high price, especially for low-income young people with few other options:
So far, 1,552 Americans have died in the war in Afghanistan; 11,200 have been wounded. In one study of the 300,000 returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan who sought help from Veterans Affairs health centers, nearly 37 percent of those treated for the first time were suffering from mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, or alcohol problems. These problems too often result in suicide. During the first half of 2009, more American soldiers committed suicide than were killed in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. In June 2010, an average of one soldier a day committed suicide. Furthermore, 11 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are unemployed.
Of course, there are very few children of members of Congress, or of finance and business executives, in the military. Those who run the country are not sending their children to fight the wars they continue to prolong. Frankly, war is good business for those who run the military-industrial complex that former President Eisenhower warned us about. Generals always recommend more war because it’s their business. It gets them promotions and advances their careers. And they often distort the facts to stay in business — claiming progress in order to justify continued war — when there really is no significant progress at all. Meanwhile, more young people get killed or damaged for the rest of their lives, and the cost for so many innocents is even higher.
Wallis' last paragraph, although referring to business goals as opposed to moral goals, helps illustrate my point. There are no wealthy people in government-subsidized housing, in danger of being subject to the latest round of invasive policies. And there are probably few white people or other members of powerful, majority segments of our society. Similarly, the Guttmacher Institute recently reported that "the proportion of abortion patients who were poor increased by almost 60%—from 27% in 2000 to 42% in 2008." In addition, "[g]aps in unintended pregnancy and abortion between poor and more affluent women have been increasing since the mid-1990s." The lack of family-planning access and education affects low-income communities disproportionately.
Framing these issues in terms of the hegemony imposing its will on a marginalized community makes them appear less like cut-and-dried moral--or even Christian--issues. What would happen if those in power recognized the humanity in "the least of these" and worked together with them? Simply forcing what appears to be the most moral solution on the bodies of those who lack political and economic power may hurt more than help.
Thoughts? Agree? Disagree?